Jenny Leong speaks on strata reforms and the rights of renters and owner occupiers to have pets

On behalf of The Greens, I speak in support of the Strata Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. The bill makes a number of sensible amendments, many of which emerged from the 2021 statutory review of the Strata Schemes Development Act 2015 and the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015. That review consulted with stakeholders, residents and the broader community to understand how strata schemes are currently working in practice and identify areas for improvement. The review made no less than 139 recommendations. It is astounding that two years after the review reported, this is the first piece of legislation acting on any of those recommendations. I acknowledge the work of the Minister and the Government in bringing this legislation forward.

The Greens welcome the long overdue and much-needed reforms proposed by the bill, which we understand are the first in a broader suite of changes the Government plans to make in relation to enacting the statutory review's recommendations. I recall when I was a recently elected member of Parliament in 2015 the very intense and heightened debate that occurred around the review of strata laws and the changes that were put in place then. I recognise and acknowledge the Government's decision to take these reforms in stages so that there is time and space for people to engage with and be consulted on these changes.

As growing numbers of people move into apartments and building higher and denser is posited as the solution to the housing crisis, we need to get strata schemes right. The various measures within the bill are sensible and non-controversial steps toward achieving this goal, and The Greens support them. In particular, we support the bill's amendment of the provisions in the Strata Schemes Development Act pertaining to collective sales and strata scheme renewals. In 2015, The Greens opposed changes to this Act by the then Coalition Government that allowed for the collective sale or redevelopment of a strata lot with the support of only 75 per cent of owners. Previously, collective sales and redevelopment required unanimous owner consent. Back then, many people expressed serious concern that lowering the threshold of support from 100 per cent to 75 per cent would cause significant uncertainty and insecurity for people living in strata and allow developers to make money to the detriment of people wishing to be secure in their own home.

While we have not seen this borne out on a massive scale, we must recognise that since the introduction of the 75 per cent threshold, dodgy developers and other bad faith actors have used the reduced threshold to achieve their own ends. In one well-publicised case in Macquarie Park, a developer used different company names to purchase units in two neighbouring buildings that were part of the same strata scheme. Although 40 of the 45 owners agreed to sell, the developer, Hyecorp, was in the minority dissenting. Hyecorp made a bid on the buildings and then withdrew it, leaving the owners to go with another bidder that later walked away after Hyecorp mounted an expensive legal challenge to the sale. The owners were left with a huge bill from the challenge and little chance of redeveloping their buildings.

We have heard significant stories of the personal stress that the changes to the 75 per cent laws made to elderly people and people who had done significant renovations to their homes in strata schemes and how they lived in fear that they would be in a situation where their home—the place that they had created to be their home—would be sold from underneath them as a result of the changes. Stories like those are the greatest reason why we need increased transparency in the process of collective sales and why The Greens strongly support the bill's proposal to increase the disclosure requirements of conflicts of interests of members of strata committees.

I turn to the other significant component of the bill, which is the introduction of new protections for assistance and companion animals. Australia has some of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, and pets are a beloved part of households in freestanding homes and apartments alike. For owners and renters, pets are a key part of people's families. It is critical that the laws we make in this place facilitate people to be able to live with their four-legged friends and other pets in their homes without others trying to intervene and control what is acceptable regarding living with pets. The Greens believe that the right to have a pet should be enjoyed equally by owner-occupiers and renters. In fact, when it comes to all the strata laws reforms, as we move into the next stage of the review and as we look at further reviews to the strata laws, it is absolutely critical that there is always equity regarding information sharing and participation in decisions in the building between strata owners and the people who are renting in stratas. Renters make up a significant proportion of strata schemes and it is absolutely critical that renters are included in the information that is shared that impacts on their lives.

Getting back to pets, it is the view of The Greens that any reasons for refusing pets should be limited to existing laws. I will share a story of when I attempted to make a change to allow renters to have pets in their homes under the previous Government when we were reviewing the Residential Tenancies Act. I remember having a conversation with the Parliamentary Counsel's Office. I said I would like to move an amendment that would allow renters to have pets in their homes like owners can have pets in their home. They said, "But what kind of pets?" They were trying to get me to put a limit on that. I said, "I'm not going to limit that. There are other laws that exist." They said, "Surely you don't think a renter can have a horse in the apartment if they're renting?" I said, "If the owner can have a horse in the apartment then the renter should be able to have a horse in the apartment." There should be other laws in the State to prevent the holding of inappropriate animals inside apartment buildings and the distinction between what is appropriate for a renter, someone who lives in a strata scheme, and someone who owns a freestanding property should not be made. It should be decided based on the welfare of the animal and the appropriateness of having that animal in a domestic setting.

The bill would make it so that any strata by-law prohibiting companion or assistance animals has no force or effect to the extent that it would "unreasonably prohibit" the keeping of an animal on a lot within a strata scheme. This change would also extend to by-laws that restrict or unreasonably burden the keeping of an assistance animal, which The Greens welcome with open arms. We also support the raft of other changes that the bill makes to strata law, including amendments related to governance, requiring new tenants to be provided with all necessary by-laws and allowing the regulator to compulsorily appoint a strata managing agent if an owners' corporation is not satisfied with their existing agent's functions. Each of these measures will have real and practical impacts on the lives of the thousands of people across our community who live in strata schemes. The Greens look forward to seeing the next steps in the new year towards further strengthening strata laws in this State. I commend the bill to the House.

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